- Associated Press - Monday, December 30, 2019

AWARDS

NEW YORK (AP) - He left Cleveland for Miami, finally became a champion, went back to his beloved northeast Ohio, delivered on another title promise, then left for the Los Angeles Lakers and the next challenge. He played in eight straight finals. No NBA player won more games or more MVP awards over the last 10 years than he did. He started a school. He married his high school sweetheart.

Those were just some highlights of the last 10 years. There were many more, as the man called “King” spent the last decade reigning over all others - with no signs of slowing down.

James is The Associated Press male athlete of the decade, adding his name to a list that includes Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky and Arnold Palmer. He was a runaway winner in a vote of AP member sports editors and AP beat writers, easily outpacing runner-up Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

Usain Bolt of Jamaica was third for dominating the sprints at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, soccer superstar Lionel Messi was fourth and Michael Phelps - the U.S. swimmer who retired as history’s most decorated Olympian with 28 medals, 23 gold - was fifth.



James was revealed as the winner Sunday. In his 17th season, he’s on pace to lead the league in assists for the first time while remaining among the NBA’s scoring leaders.

NEW YORK (AP) - Serena Williams dominated the decade, on the court and in conversation.

There were, to begin with, the dozen Grand Slam single titles - no other woman had more than three over the past 10 seasons - and the 3 1/2 years in a row at No. 1 in the WTA rankings.

And then there was the celebrity status that transcended tennis, making everything she did and said newsworthy, whether it was the triumphs and trophies and fashion statements or the disputes with tournament officials, the magazine covers or the Super Bowl ad with a message about women’s power, the birth of her daughter or the health scare that followed.

Still winning matches and reaching Grand Slam finals into her late 30s, still mattering as much as ever, Williams was selected by The Associated Press as the Female Athlete of the Decade on Saturday after a vote by AP member sports editors and AP beat writers.

Gymnast Simone Biles, the 2019 AP Female Athlete of the Year, finished second to Williams in voting for the decade honor, followed by swimmer Katie Ledecky. Two ski racers were next, with Lindsey Vonn finishing fourth and Mikaela Shiffrin fifth.

NFL

NEW YORK (AP) - The first-round pairings for the NFL playoffs are set.

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will be playing in the postseason a week earlier than usual this year.

The defending Super Bowl champs open the playoffs during wild-card weekend for the first time since 2009 after they lost 27-24 to Miami on Sunday and Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Los Angeles Chargers 31-21 to earn a first-round bye.

The Patriots (12-4) are the No. 3 overall seed in the AFC and will have to fix things in a hurry as they host Tennessee next weekend.

Kansas City’s victory also locked Houston into the No. 4 seed, and the Texans will host the Buffalo Bills (10-6) next weekend.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs (12-4) are the No. 2 seed and will be able to watch the opening round, along with the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens.

San Francisco earned the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs with a 26-21 victory at Seattle. Jimmy Garoppolo and the NFC West champion 49ers (13-3) held on and sent Russell Wilson and the Seahawks (11-5) on the road to open the playoffs in the wild-card round next Sunday at Philadelphia.

Green Bay earned a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs with a 23-20 victory at Detroit, the Packers’ fifth straight win.

New Orleans routed Carolina 42-10 to finish 13-3 in the regular season, but Drew Brees and Co. then had to wait for the result of the 49ers-Seahawks game to see what their playoff path would be.

The NFC South champions will be the No. 3 seed and will host Minnesota (10-6) in the wild-card round next Sunday.

Injury-ravaged Philadelphia (9-7) won the NFC East with a 34-17 win over the New York Giants, eliminating Dallas with the victory.

BEREA, Ohio (AP) - The Cleveland Browns fired coach Freddie Kitchens after a disheartening season that didn’t come close to meeting expectations.

Kitchens was let go Sunday night, just hours after the Browns were beaten by the lowly Cincinnati Bengals (2-14) to finish 6-10 and miss the playoffs for the 17th straight year.

Earlier, Kitchens held out hope he would be back for a second season, saying after the 33-23 loss in Cincinnati, “I’m going to show up tomorrow (Monday) and do my job.”

But owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam decided one season was enough and parted ways with Kitchens, who was a surprising hire a year ago because he had no previous head coaching experience. His successful eight-game stretch as the team’s offensive coordinator to end 2018 had sent his stock soaring.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) - The son of Detroit Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones has died.

The Lions announced the death of Jones’ son, Marlo, in a statement Saturday night, and Jones posted a message on Instagram.

“We miss you already buddy and will forever love you,” Jones said in his social media post. “Rest peacefully our sweet baby boy. You have gained your wings.”

A team spokesman said Marlo was about 6 months old.

The Lions said they were informed Saturday by Marvin and Jazmyn Jones about their son’s sudden death.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) - The matchup is set for a tantalizing College Football Playoff national championship game.

On one side, defending champ Clemson, with its 29-game winning streak. On the other, unbeaten and No. 1 LSU, with its record-setting offense and Heisman Trophy winner.

LSU and Clemson will play the final game of the 2019 college football season on Jan. 13 in New Orleans after winning semifinals Saturday night.

Heisman winner Joe Burrow and his Tigers routed No. 4 Oklahoma 63-28 at the Peach Bowl. Clemson’s No. 3 Tigers beat No. 2 Ohio State 29-23 in a Fiesta Bowl thriller.

SOCCER

Manuel Pellegrini was fired by West Ham on Saturday after 18 months in charge, paying the price for an alarming slump in the Premier League that has seen the team plunge from fourth place into a relegation battle.

The end for the 66-year-old Chilean at the Hammers came less than two hours after its 2-1 home loss to Leicester. Co-chairmen David Gold and David Sullivan said in a statement: “It has become clear that a change is required to get the club back on track in line with our ambitions this season.”

West Ham’s expensively assembled team has won just two of the last 14 matches - losing the last four at home - and is a point and a place above the relegation zone.

HORSE RACING

ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) - Omaha Beach won the $300,000 Malibu Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths on opening day at Santa Anita, giving Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith a record 217th Grade 1 victory.

Smith surpassed the mark set by retired Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey to become thoroughbred racing’s all-time Grade 1 stakes-winning jockey.

Smith won four stakes on Saturday’s card.

YACHT RACING

HOBART, Australia (AP) — The 52-foot Australian yacht Ichi Ban has been confirmed as overall winner of the Sydney to Hobart race for the second time in three years.

Ichi Ban completed the race in 2 days, 6 hours, 18 minutes and 5 seconds at sea, crossing the line about 12 hours behind the line honors winner Comanche.

That put it 34 minutes ahead of 52-footer Gweilo on corrected time. The Bruce Farr-designed 52-footer Quest was third. All three yachts are Sydney-based.

Ichi Ban skipper Matt Allen on Monday received the Tattersall Cup as the handicap winner of the 75th edition of the blue water classic.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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